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Tuesday, December 20, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ronquillo Must Serve 44 Years Of Sentence -- Judge Denies Request For Leniency In Killing Of Teen Near School

Brian Ronquillo, sentenced to 52 years in prison for the murder of Melissa Fernandes outside Ballard High School in March, must serve at least 44 years under the mandatory sentences required in Washington state.

Although parole is no longer part of the penal system, prisoners can get credit for up to 15 percent of their sentences for "good behavior" while in prison.

Ronquillo, 17, yesterday was sentenced for first-degree murder for spraying shots from an automatic weapon as he and two others cruised by the high school in retaliation for what they considered a slight to their gang.

Cesar Sarausad, 21, was sentenced to 27 years for being the driver of the car from which the shots were fired.

Ronquillo could have faced as many as 69 years in prison had the judge sentenced him to the maximum allowable under the law, and Sarausad could have been in prison for 37 years.

Their terms, however, are within the state sentencing guidelines.

Family members and representatives of the Filipino community had sought some leniency for the two. King County Superior Court Judge Larry Jordan received more than 100 letters on Ronquillo's behalf, and there were more than 300 names on petitions supporting Sarausad.

But Jordan said that in neither case did he find reason to give a lesser sentence than required under the guidelines.

Before he was sentenced, Ronquillo said in court, "I want to say I am sorry to the Fernandes family and to my family for all the pain this has caused. . .

"I have had a lot of time to think about this. I wish I could trade places with Missy, but I can't."

Sarausad said, "I'm sorry to the Fernandes family. I realize my actions that day affected your lives and caused pain and suffering. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry for what I did. I ask for your forgiveness."

Ronquillo was convicted of first-degree, premeditated murder in the Fernandes killing and of two counts of attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault.

He will serve the first four years of his sentence in a juvenile facility.

Sarausad was convicted of second-degree murder, two counts of second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault.

Jerome Reyes, 18, the third person in the car, was not convicted in the trial but pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and related charges. Reyes faces four to five years in prison for the conviction, but prosecutors planned to ask for an exceptional sentence of 10 years based on the vulnerability of the victim and the impact the crime had on the community.

The King County Superior Court jury last month wasted little time convicting Ronquillo. But they did spend 40 hours deciding on Sarausad and Reyes. In the end, they could not reach a verdict on Reyes.

Tammy Fernandes, the victim's mother, left the courtroom after the sentencings without comment.

Melissa Fernandes' grandmother, Helga Caldwell, asked that a letter be read in court.

She said the sentence shouldn't be "eye for an eye," but should consider "what do we have to do to stop the violence among young people. Too many Missies have died."

Ronquillo's father, Sam, said the sentence on his son was "too harsh," and continued to insist on his son's innocence.

The events that led to the killing began March 15 when Reyes was chased from the high school by members of a rival gang. Two days later, he and his group returned about noon and got into a pushing and taunting match to "gain respect," he said.

One hour later, two cars full of young people returned to the school. As Sarausad drove by slowly, Ronquillo, sitting in the passenger seat, opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon.

The attempted-murder convictions stemmed from shots fired at two boys who were standing near Fernandes.

Reyes denied he committed a crime, but said in his guilty plea that he felt he would be convicted if he went to trial.

Prosecutors said Reyes actually was the instigator of the attack. The jury split 9-3 and 8-4 in favor of convicting Reyes, but could not reach a unanimous agreement.

Reyes also pleaded guilty to first-degree rendering criminal assistance and reckless endangerment. He already has been sentenced for third-degree assault in connection with another case.

Seven other youths who were either with Ronquillo or helped him dispose of the weapon have pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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